Don’t Fear the Robots: 3 Reasons Robotic Process Automation Is Good for Identity

written by
Paul Walker
March 25, 2021

You may have seen the recent announcement that ServiceNow is set to acquire Intellibot, a robotic process automation (RPA) company. Combined, the companies have the stated goal to “help businesses automate any workflow.”

At Clear Skye, we’re excited by this news and what it means to our customers. Let’s take a closer look at how RPA works and how it can be applied to workflows on the Now Platform in general and in the identity governance and administration (IGA) space in particular.

Why does robotic process automation matter?

RPA helps organizations become more agile and less dependent upon tiresome and often error-prone manual interaction with business applications. RPA has the ability to take an input, validate it, and then do something with it. Examples of this work include data inputs in a Web form, email responses, or Excel file edits. RPA use has increased significantly in recent years by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to adapt to changes in the operating environment.

RPA processes can be thought of as workflows: Processes with a defined start, a series of tasks, and an end. RPA processes are referred to as robots. The work robots perform can be event-based, such as a task triggered when an email arrives in an inbox; work can also be scheduled to run periodically, or even invoked by other applications using an application programming interface (API).

A robot can work anywhere there’s a network connection, and it’s not as restricted by time zones and workflows as we mere humans are. The robot can process ITSM change requests in Sydney and then respond to website chatbot conversations in India later in the day.

What does RPA mean for ServiceNow customers?

As the “platform of platforms,” the Now Platform has become the preferred place to execute workflows that drives business processes and allows workers of all types to make business decisions.

The ITSM application from ServiceNow is a natural candidate to benefit from RPA. Consider a robot that responds to incoming change management requests. By enriching the process with AI and risk management analysis, these robots can relieve the burden of businesspeople approving and fulfilling low-risk requests. A robot could even escalate inbound requests or incidents faster than it takes an employee to manually intervene.

We can only predict how ServiceNow will incorporate RPA into the Now Platform, However, we imagine that the same “low-code, no-code” principle used within ServiceNow Flow Designer and Spokes will be used to democratize the use of RPA for ServiceNow customers. Integrating RPA actions directly into ServiceNow Flows will enrich the digital workflow experience.

What does RPA mean for Identity Governance?

Clear Skye enhances the Now Platform’s rich services to reduce the barrier to adopting IGA and enrich the workflow experience. That could be an end user requesting access, an IGA administrator onboarding a new application, or an admin creating a new connection to a target application that requires governance and provisioning automation.

Now, anyone who has been involved with an IGA project knows there are bound to be challenges. Let’s take a look at two in particular – integrating applications and connecting to legacy systems – and see how Clear Skye IGA plus RPA on the Now Platform can help. We’ll also explore a new challenge: Managing the identity of a robot.

Faster application integration

Clear Skye IGA detects changes in the employee lifecycle: Joining as a new employee, transitioning to a new position, relocating, and offboarding when the time comes to leave. We do this through the use of connectors, which serve two key purposes. First, they manage the flow of identity information from a source application of record, typically a human resources application such as Workday or SAP SuccessFactors. Second, connectors provision accounts and access to other applications where users perform their work.

Connectors use APIs, which systems and applications expose to provide integration capabilities. Using APIs requires technical knowledge and is often the domain of a professional software engineer. As this knowledge can be costly and may not be readily available, enterprises often incur delays when attempting to integrate applications.

ServiceNow have always aimed to lower the level of technical knowledge required to build business processes, and to integrate non-platform systems such as Workday to the Now Platform. For example, using the ServiceNow IntegrationHub Spokes together with the Flow Designer workflow allows a “citizen developer” to build workflow processes and manage the flow of data between ServiceNow and other systems.  

Clear Skye saw the potential of the ServiceNow IntegrationHub and built a bridge between Clear Skye IGA’s connector framework and the IntegrationHub. Licensed customers benefit from IntegrationHub’s spokes working natively as IGA connectors, with little need for the technical programming effort associated with traditional connector development.

Clear Skye’s product team looks forward to seeing how ServiceNow integrates RPA onto the Now Platform. We foresee the ability to use RPA to fulfil identity provisioning services, just like our very own connectors use ServiceNow IntegrationHub – by lowering the time required and broadening the opportunities to integrate new IT systems into identity workflows.

ITSM-driven fulfilment

Within the IGA landscape, there are proven benefits to using ITSM processes for manual fulfilment where no automated or direct integration occurs. There are valid business reasons behind this. It could be a legacy application that exposes no API, rendering connectors impossible. Or the rate of change within the application could be so low that it doesn’t make economic sense to invest in a custom integration.

Clear Skye foresees RPA on the Now Platform bringing many benefits to these scenarios. Since a robot doesn’t need an API, it can log into the app just like a person would. That means an RPA-enabled Clear Skye connector could act and behave just like any other IGA connector would: Logging in, creating or modifying access, assigning permissions, and so on.

In the future, we believe the platform will own connectivity — not the IGA tool.

Robot identity management

Robots perform actions within IT systems and business applications just like people do. Robots must log in and authenticate themselves, and robots must have permissions to do work. A robot may have access to multiple systems in different locations and can switch between applications.

Treating a robot as an identity, as if it were a person, is critical to your cybersecurity program. Left unmanaged, robots expose a regulatory risk. A person may make one mistake when handling confidential data, but they are unlikely to make hundreds or thousands of mistakes, one after the other. A robot performing the same orchestrated task could accidentally do this. How do you mitigate this risk?

Robots should be considered a privileged identity. That means you need to consider the following:

  • Who reviews the access to IT systems that robots have?
  • Who and what process assigns the permissions required for robots to do their work?
  • Who and what checks what the robots are doing against the permissions they have?

Clear Skye IGA manages all sorts of identities, their lifecycles, their permissions, and the access they have to your IT assets. Robots need the same level of care and attention from an IGA solution as people. (Minus the break room snacks, of course.)

The marriage of RPA and IGA is years in the making

Clear Skye has long seen the potential of RPA and the Now Platform to work together, not only for traditional ITSM and other ServiceNow applications but also for IGA. We’re not the only ones: Back in 2017, Gartner predicted that RPA will have a profound impact on IGA.

We agree with Gartner’s visionary statement. ServiceNow’s acquisition of Intellibot helps make this a reality. RPA will become just another service that Clear Skye can leverage to improve the adoption and successful outcome of IGA on the Now Platform.

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